Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow

Doctor Syn, Alias the Scarecrow was a favorite of The Husband when he was a child, and he was able to order a copy of the videotape to share with us. This video is a re-edited version of the original 3-part Disney presentation that Disney released in 1964. The VHS we have is a former rental copy and has seen better days, but it's quite watchable. We were interested to see George Cole, who played young Scrooge in the film by that name, in this. It was like running into an old friend.

It's funny, but the Dads in Media Blogathon has me thinking of everything in terms of dads, and there are several in this film. First is Dr. Syn himself as played by Patrick McGoohan, vicar to the area and spiritual father to them all. His calling includes caring for their physical as well as their spiritual needs. Like most fathers he leads both a public and a private life and is willing to sacrifice for his children, but his position is not one born of legal kinship or blood relationship.

Michael Hordern, known fondly to us in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, plays Squire Thomas Banks, widowed father of 3:

His oldest is much mourned, as the family has given him up for dead after he was press-ganged into His Majesty's service several years prior to the events in the movie. Watching this man awake to the fact that the son who has come back from the dead is a wanted man -a criminal for fleeing his slavery- is to watch a transformation. It takes him no time at all to choose between his duty to the crown and his love of his son.

The middle child is a daughter in love with a disowned soldier with few prospects. Dad has warned the soldier off a suit of marriage, suspicious that the young man is more in love with the daughter's fortune than the daughter. It's obvious that the father has already checked into the man's family background with an eye towards looking after his daughter's best interests. At the end of the movie, though, he is converted by the soldier's conduct and encouraged by the vicar to bless the young couple.

The younger son is, unbeknownst to the father, a close ally and helper of The Scarecrow, a local Robin Hood type currently scandalizing the gentry but protected by the poor. Dad does not approve of The Scarecrow's law-breaking habits and flouting of the law and would be horrified to realize a member of his family was an active member of the band of so-called "gentlemen".

Joseph Ransley is the bad father of the piece, "dad" to two long-suffering sons and step-son to a woman who suffers much abuse from him. "None too kindly" is, I think, how one character describes how Ransley treats his father's widow. A coward and traitor, tortured with fear, he is willing to sacrifice anything necessary to save, not his family, but himself. He'll do anything to save his own life and so, as the vicar might well point out, he loses the life he has.

Interestingly enough, there are no moms in this movie. Wait, I take that back. There is one mom, and she's never on screen. Her husband runs to get help for her after she goes into labor. When he is caught by the authorities it ruins the town's plan for dealing with the press gang. The complete absence of moms to go with any of these dads is notable. I might even call it disturbing. I have issues with female characters in the Disney films, and this is a fine example of a particular problem: a lack of meaningful female characters. Ah, well, that's a topic/rant for another time.

It's been decades since I've seen this video, but I don't think I'd have paid so much attention to the "dads" in it if I hadn't been reading the posts at the blogathon that ends today. This movie has 3 definitely distinct types of dad: the spiritual father, the more traditional caring family man and the self-centered dad unconcerned about how his actions affect the family. I'll probably continue to notice the dads in films I watch for a while to come.

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